Friday, December 28, 2007

Playhouse comes alive with ‘Sound of Music’

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 28, 2007

Pictured,top: The cast of the Lakewood Playhouse production of “The Sound of Music” includes, from left, Olivia Seward as Liesl, Hunter Larson as Friedrich, Kat Christensen as Louisa, Justin Neidermeyer as Kurt, Adrienne Grieco as Maria, Hanna Thoresen as Marta, Anna Rose LeMaster as Brigitta and Claire Thoresen as Gretl.

Certain roles by certain actors are so indelibly etched in the minds of theatergoers that they simply cannot be done by anyone else. Gregory Peck as Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes to mind, and Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and, perhaps the most iconic of them all, Julie Andrews as Maria in “The Sound of Music.”

And yet, 10 minutes into “The Sound of Music” at Lakewood Playhouse I forgot all about Julie Andrews. Adrienne Grieco is Maria. Seldom if ever have I seen an actor in a community theater so completely become a character.

Her voice is sweet and pure, her look wholesome and her emotions unabashedly right on the surface. Her expressions of pain and joy and her love for the von Trapp children go right to the heart. In the oh-so-popular film version, the sentimentality is sickeningly overdone, yet there is no taste of that false sentimentality in Grieco’s performance.

The same can be said for the actors who play the younger von Trapp children: Kat Christensen as Louisa, Anna Rose LeMaster as Brigitta, Justin Niedermeyer as Kurt, Hannah Thoreson as Marta and Claire Thoreson as Gretl. It is a joy to see their distrust of the new governess begin to melt away as Maria teaches them the delightful song “Do Re Me” and then turn to pure adoration as she sings “My Favorite Things” while the children huddle in her bed for protection from the scary thunder and lightning of a storm.

Christopher Gilbert as the crusty Capt. Georg von Trapp is stiff and unbending at first. Unlike Grieco and the children, he seems to be acting more than inhabiting the role – until he, like the children, melts under the warmth of Maria’s love. By the second act, the audience is as much in love with him as they are with Maria and the children. And his voice, though not as strong as Grieco’s, is mellow, warm and especially engaging on his duet with Grieco on “Something Good” and his solo on the touching “Edelweiss.”

Other performers who are outstanding are Carol Richmond, who plays housekeeper Frau Schmidt and doubles as one of the nuns; Marie Kelly (a terrific singer) as Capt. von Trapp’s fiancée, Elsa; and Ted Fredericks as Uncle Max Detweiler. (If there is such a thing as comic relief in this show, it is provided by Fredericks, who plays Uncle Max as a pompous rooster but ceases to be funny when he begins to cave in to the Nazi invaders.)

Lakewood Playhouse does all of their shows in the round, which means that set changes in a show like this are a huge challenge. But director Scott Campbell and set designer Doug Kerr solve it with simple pieces that are quickly moved by actors as they enter and exit the stage area.

Special recognition must also go to the band: Larry Trop, keyboard and conductor; Hanna Jepson, keyboard; and Jack Lake, percussion.

I saw a preview performance, meaning it was the first performance with full set and lighting in front of a live audience. There were one or two entrances that were too slow, and the nuns singing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” were somewhat tentative. But these slight problems were insignificant and fixable.

I wish it could have ended with the von Trapp family exiting the stage while singing the “So Long, Farewell” reprise. Everything after that – including the scene with Liesl’s boyfriend turned Nazi, Rolf (Steve Barnett) – was anticlimactic. But contrived as that scene is, it is necessary to the story, and a lot of people would probably be disappointed if it were left out.

For all its sentimentality and familiarity, this show is wonderful to watch. And as Lakewood Playhouse artistic director Marcus Walker warned in his welcoming remarks, it is hard to resist the temptation to sing along out loud.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 13. No performances Dec. 28-30.
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $22 general admission, $19 senior and military discount, $16 younger than 25, $14 younger than 15
INFORMATION: 253-588- 0042,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gift of art

Tacoma receives two new galleries

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 27, 2007
Pictured "Ka (Who)" painting by Donald Cole

Christmas is not the best time for artists and art galleries. Nobody ever gives art for Christmas. They should, but they don’t. I, for one, would love to get a painting by Ron Hinson or Chauney Peck or one of Holly Senn’s sculptures made from old books. But most people are afraid of giving art as a gift — remembering, perhaps, how they hid the painting of dogs playing poker Aunt Suzie gave them and drag it out only when she visits.

Art galleries tend to run group holiday shows, meaning they pull out the paintings that have been stored in a back room all year.

But Tacoma’s newest galleries either don’t know what a dreary time of year the holiday season is for art businesses or they are too optimistic to care. Not one but two new galleries have just opened in Tacoma, and another has reopened in a new location.

Fulcrum Art Gallery opened last week with a multimedia installation called “Lambscapes” by Joseph Miller. I haven’t had a chance to see the show yet, but I hope to see it soon. I’ve been told that shows at Fulcrum will run for two months with the main gallery focusing on sculpture and installation works and a smaller gallery focusing on design work. Fulcrum shows will be curated by glass artist and interior designer Oliver Doriss.

The second new gallery is The Lark Gallery located inside Sanford & Son Antiques. Its opening show is “Pixelations: Beyond the Visible,” paintings by Danielle McClenahan. An opening announcement proclaims that the gallery “proposes to display original artwork from emerging artists from Tacoma and around the globe while offering art prices that make it accessible to many budgets. The gallery will have rotating monthly artists as well as items from an ongoing cadre of local artists such as Niels Wacht, Kari Thoreen, Mindy Barker and James Hume.”

Mineral is reopening in the old Ice Box Gallery space at 301 Puyallup Ave. Currently showing is an exhibition of clown paintings by Seattle artist Cathy Sarkowsky, plus a display of new bronze and silver jewelry.

Up north in the Emerald City there’s a marvelous painting exhibition by a transplanted New Yorker that is really worth seeing — even if it means braving holiday traffic. The painter is Donald Cole, and he’s one of the best pure painters to come our way in a long time. Cole was a successful artist in New York, showing in such prestigious galleries as 55 Mercer and Nancy Hoffman, but he left the Big Apple to settle on Vashon Island and is now showing his most recent paintings at ArtXchange on First Avenue near Pioneer Square.

Cole makes simple but graphically rich abstract paintings based on Sanskrit and other Asian languages and imagery. “During the last twenty years my main inspiration has come from extensive travel in Asia where one is bombarded by complex layers of forms and colors and by the many creative expressions of spirituality that pervade Asian life, especially in India,” Cole writes in a personal statement on his Web site. “The signs and symbols and the effects of time and weather on the shrines and walls affect the content of my work and balance my formal concerns with human and caring concerns.”

Finally, I just received an urgent e-mail saying I absolutely have to see the Elaine Faaborg show at One Heart Café, next to the Grand Cinema. This is another show I haven’t seen yet, but the note came from C.J. Swanson, an artist and curator whose taste I absolutely trust. I saw images of Faaborg’s work on the Web at, and they look great.

[Fulcrum Art Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
[The Lark Gallery, noon to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Third Thursday, 743 Broadway, 253.383.3168,]
[Mineral, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday or by appointment, through Dec. 31, 301 Puyallup Ave., 253.250.7745]
[ArtXchange, through Dec. 29, 512 First Ave. S., Seattle]
[One Heart Café, through January, 604 S. Fawcett]

Friday, December 21, 2007

‘Cinderella’ gets delightful makeover

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 21, 2007
pictured: Roger Curtis and Terry Moore as The Ugly Sisters, photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

You may have seen other staged productions of the children’s fairy tale “Cinderella.” But unless you’ve seen it performed as a traditional English pantomime, you’ve never seen anything like the absolutely wild and crazy madness of Centerstage’s “Cinderella.”

Unlike the white-face pantomime most Americans are familiar with, the traditional British pantomime, usually performed at Christmas, is a madcap performance of song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, in-jokes, audience participation and mild sexual innuendo – all loosely based on traditional children’s stories.

All of the familiar Cinderella story elements are in place: the poor, abused child; the evil stepsisters; the fairy godmother; the pumpkin turned into a coach; the beautiful ball; the dance with Prince Charming; and the final fitting of the glass slipper. But unlike the traditional story, this one seems to take place in Fife, and the ugly stepsisters (a pair of male actors in drag) do their shopping at the Commons in Federal Way. And Prince Charming (Hilary Heinz) and his servant, Dandini (Alexandra Blouin), are played by two tall and beautiful girls – changing gender roles being another tradition of the British pantomime.

In addition to the gender swap, there is also the Shakespearean device of one character pretending to be another; in this case, the prince pretends to be Dandini, and Dandini pretends to be the prince.

The fairy godmother (played with charm and grace by Rosalie Hilburn) begins the festivities by scolding the audience for not giving her a proper welcome, thus establishing from the opening curtain that audience responses are expected.

The lovely Cinderella (Alicia Mendez) and the chorus sing a welcoming song, “Gee But It’s Good to Be Here,” and then the ugly, ugly, ugly stepsisters, Britney (Roger Curtis) and Beyoncé (Terry Edward Moore) make their presence known with the rousing and slightly altered song “Sisters,” made famous by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in the movie “White Christmas” – twisted versions of familiar songs being yet another tradition of the British pantomime.

Characters not included in the original fairy tale but essential to the pantomime include Cinderella’s father, Baron Hard-Up (Tom Butterworth), who is lovable but bumbling and completely under the thumb of his nasty stepdaughters; and Cinderella’s best friend, the lovable servant Buttons (Scott Polovitch-Davis).

Buttons is in love with Cinderella, and he establishes a special rapport with the children in the audience. Polovitch-Davis throws himself into the role with great gusto, playing to the children in the manner of J.P. Patches the clown or Pee-wee Herman. He asks all the boys and girls to give the secret signal whenever he comes out and shouts “Whassup gang?” and to shout out a warning whenever someone approaches his magic button. As intended, Buttons steals the show whenever he is on stage. Only Curtis and Moore with their outlandish drag queen antics can hold their own with Buttons on stage.

Heinz and Blouin, as Prince Charming and Dandini, respectively, pull off some rousing comic bits: Dandini tries to mimic the prince’s regal walk and ends up walking like a frog, and Prince Charming swings his arms like a gorilla while trying to emulate Dandini’s more casual walk. They are perfect comic counterpoints to the gangly stepsisters as they look like fashion models with long legs accentuated by very high heels.

All in all, this “Cinderella” is wonderfully campy and joyfully entertaining for kids of all ages.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theater, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25 depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bending space

Drawing conclusions at Black Front Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 20, 2007
Pictured: drawing by Justine Ashbee

Driving up Fourth Avenue in Olympia, I glanced in the window of Black Front Gallery and saw what looked like an intricate wall sculpture made of cut paper and swirling strands of wire. From my distance and angle as I drove by — holding up traffic as I slowly inched my way past the window — this Calder-like “mobile” looked as if it extended a few feet out from the wall with cast shadows and lighter colored lines behind it echoing the swirling lines.
When I went back to the gallery the next day, I saw that what had looked like a wall sculpture was actually a drawing done in black, dark blue and aqua markers on paper. It was completely flat, but with an illusion of space that was not as noticeable up close as it had been from my car. What I was seeing was Justine Ashbee’s three-part drawing, “Floating Entity.” It is a drawing of floral patterns done in smoothly flowing lines that spans three large sheets of paper. It’s a lovely drawing that looks like it was mechanically produced, but it was done freehand with marking pens. How anyone can draw lines that smoothly is beyond my comprehension.

On the back wall is a large drawing called “Folds in Battle” that actually does extend outward from the wall, thus combining actual and illusory depth. In this one, the drawings are done on paper that is cut out and pinned in clusters along the outer edges of a white wall panel. Large leaf and blossom shapes, along with delicate tendrils of paper, bend and fold outward up to about six inches and cast real shadows that overlap with illusory shadows created by lighter lines drawn on the flat surface. Lines in black, purple and hot-hot pink interspersed with clusters of leaf shapes made of white lines on black paper give this piece a dramatic punch.
A third wall holds three similar but smaller drawings on paper. The most fascinating of these is one called “Auric,” in which there are miniscule breaks in the lines everywhere they intersect. These breaks in the lines counteract the illusion of depth caused by overlapping lines and give the drawing an optical shimmer. It is also the only one of her drawings that does not have black lines, but is drawn with sweet pink and violet lines.

I generally do not like art that is this sweet and flowery or drawings that are this precise. But I really like these.

In the smaller back gallery are seven portraits by Joey Bates. Each of these is taken from a Polaroid photograph and painted on a wood panel. The painting style is flat and precise with each color area outlined with thin black lines. In an interesting wall commentary, Bates includes a small reproduction of one of his paintings alongside a reproduction of the Polaroid he worked from as an illustration of how he changed the image for compositional and dramatic purposes.

Bates’ paintings are interesting but too illustrational for my taste, and in many of them, the backgrounds seem almost like an afterthought. The backgrounds are painted more expressively than the faces, and the faces and the backgrounds do not always work well together.

Two of his best paintings are “Annie” and “Danielle.” Both of these work well because of the balance and placement of the faces relative to the picture format. However, a kind of clichéd sunburst effect behind Annie’s head keeps this portrait from being as good as it should be.
In his wall statement, Bates says he is tempted to paint more loosely and expressively but paints very deliberately, taking up to a month on each painting. I think these paintings would be better if they were painted more loosely and maybe without the lines circumscribing each area.

[Black Front Gallery, through December, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.6032,]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Scary words

When I published my first novel my sister, a devout Southern Baptist, said she was afraid to read it. I guess she was afraid that it might have sex or violence or dirty words. She bought a copy, but I doubt if she ever read it.

She might have found out that it did have sex and violence and dirty words.

My next one was even more explicit. An uncle on Gabi's side of the family emailed me saying he was shocked. He said he liked it but couldn't imagine a gentle person such as I writing about such things. An elderly lady whom I knew through our local PFLAG chapter had a similar reaction, asking, "How do you even know about that stuff?" But she said she cried at the end. So did a neighbor whom I was afraid might be offended by some of the language.

I guess you never know how people might react.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

My one little voice joining the chorus of critics all over the country lauding the new Coen Brothers movie "No Country for Old Men" probably doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But for what it's worth, this is a one of the best movies I've ever seen. I saw it yesterday, and I'm still stunned. And now I'm re-reading the book by Cormac McCarthy.

I've been a huge McCarthy fan since before his Pulitzer Prize for "The Road" and way back even before "All the Pretty Horses" catapulted him to national fame. McCarthy is, quite simply one of our best living writers, and "No Country" is a great film adaptation that respects the source material.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it, and if you haven't read any of McCarthy's books, I highly recommend that too. But be forewarned: this is a violent movie. There's lots of bloodshed, but probably no more so than your average thriller these days

Friday, December 14, 2007

Unexpected arrivals

Donal Cole at ArtXchange

published in Art Access, December 2007

pictured: "Rupas (Forms) acrylic on canvas by Donald Cole

Donald Cole knows a little something about the juxtaposition of abstract shapes on a flat surface. He knows a little something about sunburnt colors and the layering of surfaces in shallow space, and about all the mark-making tools at a painter’s disposal, like stippling and scraping and the careful laying on of paint.

At least that’s what his paintings look like when viewed on a computer screen. I have not yet had an opportunity to see the paintings in his show at ArtXchange, and reproductions on a Web site can sometimes be deceiving. What appear to be rough surfaces of scraped, gouged and layered paint may not be. A photograph on his Web site of Cole at work looks like he is carefully painting small details with a sable brush on an unstretched canvas that is laid across his bed. (Evidence from other painters confirms how deceiving such appearances can be. Works by JacksonPollock and Willem de Kooning, for instance, as well some of Gerhardt Richter’s abstract paintings look like they were painted with fast and furious brushstrokes, but films of them at work prove they were much more methodical than the paintings look.)
I suspect that Cole is also more methodical in his painting than a cursory glance at the work indicates, although a gallery news release does speak of his surfaces as being “distressed” and “cracked.”

Cole’s paintings are 99-percent abstract, and feature fat calligraphic shapes that look like Asian writing or ancient hieroglyphs and other iconic symbols laid on top of rock-like shapes in dull, cool blues and greens over hot reds and burnt oranges, with adjacent deep transparencies in some areas and flat, opaque shapes in others. His surfaces evoke landscapes with winding roads or rivers and frescoes on old, crumbling stone walls. The paintings look to be informed by nature as opposed to being drawn from or imitative of nature. Seldom does recognizable and intentional subject matter appear, but Indian figures show up in some of his paintings – Indians from India, not Native American Indians. And according to the gallery, the squiggly abstract writing is drawn from Asian writing. A press release states: “Cole contrasts the angular forms of Sanskit with the rounder, gestural forms of Malayalam, the language of Kerala, in south India. In the latest works, the written characters themselves become even more abstract, creating texts of Cole’s own design - shapes that mimic language, but whose meanings lie somewhere in the emotive qualities of the paintings themselves.”

Originally from New York, where he has shown in such prestigious galleries as 55 Mercer Gallery, French & Co., and the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Cole now lives on Vashon Island. His current show at ArtXchange is called “Unpredictable Arrivals.”
“During the last twenty years my main inspiration has come from extensive travel in Asia where one is bombarded by complex layers of forms and colors and by the many creative expressions of spirituality that pervade Asian life, especially in India,” Cole writes in a personal statement on his Web site. “The signs and symbols and the effects of time and weather on the shrines and walls affect the content of my work and balance my formal concerns with human and caring concerns.”

The ArtXchange show features 23 recent paintings and one wall-size earlier work, “Rockwall,” which is a precursor of many of the more recent paintings.
“Rockwall” looks like a landscape painted in brilliant reds, blues and oranges on a stone wall shot through with white cracks. A dark blue river meanders across the top section separating walls of red and orange rock. Deep red calligraphic marks dance across the surface.

Similar marks, but looking more controlled, show up in many of his later paintings. Dark, hot and vibrant earth tones predominate, and the designs are densely packed. But two of my favorites are cooler in tone and with fewer shapes and less overlay. They are “Rupas (Forms)” and “Citi (Brick),” both of which show a few very simple organic shapes in tones of blue, green and yellow over fields of rock-like rectangles with rounded edges. In both the colors are milky and dull, with everything keyed to a middle value.

Measuring 54 by 24 inches, “Rupas” is a tall, thin painting with two large calligraphic letters that look almost like human legs. The upper “leg” drapes down from the top edge of the canvas and forms a triangle that barely kisses the edge of the lower “leg,” which looks like a raised knee. The top one is a dull, yellow-green and the bottom one the same green with hints of ochre. The yellow and green rectangles in the background are jammed together like pieces of a crude, hand-made rock puzzle. “Citi,” which is the same size and dimensions, has a pair of oval shapes in dull blue and violent jammed against the left edge of the canvas and to the right a squiggle of the same dull blue that looks like the bend of a river going nowhere or a coiled and striking snake.

“Chaun (To Transmit)” has blue and ochre letters dancing on a dark brick red background. Two of the letters look like Keith Haring figures boxing.
One of the few paintings with recognizable figures is “Echo,” which shows a dark, reddish-brown figure walking past what appears to be stone buildings with writing on the walls. The figure is comical looking, with spiked hair (or a crown) and is carrying a sword. There are marvelously deep transparencies in this painting.
Two others with obvious figures are “Shifafa (Lyric Energy)” and “Essential Nature,” both of which picture seated Indian gods (most likely Siva, the god of destruction) with overlapping transparent fields of writing. I think these suffer from being too literal, and that the more abstract images and the simpler designs are much stronger.
Donald Cole Unpredictable Arrivals runs through Dec. 29 at ArtXchange, 512 First Ave. S., Seattle.

You can tune in with ‘1940’s Radio Hour’

Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 14, 2007

pictured: 1. Leishen Moore
2. Sheri Tipton-Hasson, Claudette Hatcher, Alan Fuller, Adam Rudolph
3. Adam Rudolph, Jarod Nace, Erica Penn

For the holiday season, Olympia’s Capital Playhouse is turned into New York radio station WOV, 1941.

Walton Jones’ play “1940’s Radio Hour” is much more than just a set piece for a swing-era music revue. It’s a funny, touching and naturalistic play with fully developed plot and characters loaded with nostalgia and vaudevillian silliness, but with an underlying tragic tone.

The authentic art deco set designed by Bruce Haasl, the very realistic blocking by director and musical director Troy Arnold Fisher, and the unaffected acting by the entire cast all combine to make the audience feel they are actually there in the station as a live radio show audience.

There is no curtain and no curtain speech. Even as audience members chatter with one another and before the lights go down, employees of the radio station go to work.

Pops (Bernie Brady), a crusty old stage manager, comes in, hangs up his hat and gets on the phone to his bookie; Clifton Feddington (Gregory Conn), the no-nonsense station manager and announcer, shouts at cast and crew members who are anything but ready for the Christmas show that’s due to start in just a few minutes; singer Ginger Brooks (Sheri Tipton-Hasson) lounges around the station in her slip and an oversized and quite pointed brassiere that looks like a pair of WWII bombs; matinee idol Johnny Cantone (Matt Posner) comes in and confides to one of the other people in the cast that he is quitting the show to go to Hollywood.

The whole station is a madhouse of activity. Everyone is milling around and talking over one another – from stars to band members to the delivery boy who wants to break into show business (Wally Fergusson, played by Capital High School student Eddie Carroll).

With the band tuning up and everyone talking at once on different parts of the stage, it absolutely draws the audience in to a believable set.

Then the radio broadcast starts. Clifton welcomes the audience with a deep and resonant voice that sounds like the archetype of every great male radio announcer there’s ever been. Then, with the crew harmonizing on background vocals, he sings a wonderful swing rendition of the Glenn Miller standard “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

While the cast of Radio Station WOV produces “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade,” the stories of cast and crew members play out like a barely noticeable undercurrent to the music – their loves and their jealousies and the aspirations of wannabe stars. And throughout it all is awareness of the war overseas and the naive optimism of Americans, as personified by Biff Baker (Alan Fuller), who thought in the early years of the war that our soldiers would quickly win and come home.

Fuller is wonderful in this role. It takes a heap of talent to act, sing and play hot saxophone solos, and he does it all well.

Brady, as Pops Bailey, and Matt Flores, as the self-important stage manager and sound effects man, Lou Cohn, do great turns as character actors. The rest of the cast are singers who belt them out with style. Each stands out in his or her own way, but none quite so much as Jerod Richard Nace as the station’s comedian, Neal Tilden; Carroll as the innocent and infatuated delivery boy; and Adam Randolph as the all-American boy and up-and-coming star, B.J. Gibson – all of whom provide touching and comic moments.

Randolph is particularly outstanding as he goes from hesitant bumbling to enthusiastic swinging as the third “girl” in the Andrews Sisters song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with Ginger and girl-next-door singer Connie Miller (Erica Penn).

You can’t go wrong this holiday season visiting the “1940’s Radio Hour.”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 22, additional matinees Dec. 21-22 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $29-$35 for adults, $23-$29 for seniors and youths 16 and younger
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Own it

a.o.c. gallery owns a pretty good show

published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 13, 2007

pictured: “Fall Plant Commemorative,” digital print by Bea Geller

I dropped by a.o.c. gallery to see a group show that was described as a kind of transition show between the old a.o.c. managed by the husband-and-wife partnership of C.J. Swanson and David N. Goldberg and the new artists-owned cooperative gallery managed by, as the name implies, the participating artists (see how cleverly they kept the initials that originally stood for Art on Center).

I don’t know if all of the new artist-owners are represented in the group show, which is called “Own It,” or if all of the artists represented in this show are members of the cooperative. But it will be interesting to see how the change in ownership and management will affect this gallery, which has been one of the best in Tacoma since it opened in 2005.

This show is a little uneven, but pretty good.

Included are works by Swanson and Goldberg, along with Jason Sobottka, Chip Van Gilder, Bill Colby, Dorothy McCuistion, Bea Geller, and Trinda Love.

Sobotka is showing a number of works on paper that look like charcoal but, according to the wall labels, are stencils with various media, including soil. The best of these are “Neighborhood Coyote” and “Presence.” “Neighborhood Coyote” is a drawing of delicately modulated sticks and leaves scattered along the lower half of the picture with a white stencil of a coyote against gray leaves in the upper right-hand corner with a lot of white space in between. “Presence” goes even further in balancing drawn and stenciled areas against blank white space. This is Sobotka’s best work in the show. His other stencil drawings have a lot more going on and seem contrived and overworked by comparison.

Gilder, a photographer, has a single photograph on the wall. Called “Light in Motion #80,” it is an abstract form created by red light moving against a black backdrop. It looks more like a painting than a photograph, and it is striking. Not hung on the gallery walls but stacked in a bin are some Gilder photographs of Tacoma scenes, which are nice.

Printmaker Bill Colby is showing a number of wood cut and intaglio prints that are simple in design and mystical in nature, reminiscent of Morris Graves.

McCuistion’s acrylic and photo-transfer paintings on wood panels are off-putting at first glance, but they have a way of getting under your skin. They are ironic commentaries on — as she puts it in a wall statement — “the displacement of animals, loss of habitat and diversion of precious resources that occurs when humans ‘develop’ a piece of land, in this case Pierce County’s Chambers Bay Golf Course.” So we see a golf ball in a bird’s nest in a painting titled “Hole in One,” a “Sandtrap” with a cow skull, and a tiger on a golf ball titled “Tiger Woods.”
PLU art professor Bea Geller is showing some striking digital prints of plants seen within iconic circular shapes that are something like camera lenses giving focus and sharpness to the images and one long, thin digital image of birch trees in three panels with globelike lenses inserted to focus on specific areas.

Trenda Love is showing a group of small landscape paintings with heavy impasto paint and circular and square bits of mirror attached. Without the mirrors the paintings would be pretty strong, but the mirrors are gimmicky and distracting.

Finally, Swanson and Goldberg, whose work is very familiar by now, are showing some excellent abstract paintings. The transparencies in Goldberg’s paintings are outstanding as is the balanced dance of circles and rectangles in Swanson’s “Forest Guide.”

[a.o.c. gallery, Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through December, 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180,]

Friday, December 7, 2007

This ‘Stardust’ dusts off great tunes

Published in The News Tribune, December 7, 2007

Pictured from left: Emilie Rommel, LaVon Hardison, Matt Shimkus, Deanna Marie Molenda and Antonia Darlene. Photo by Tor Clausen

An isolated World War II supply depot in the Sahara Desert comes alive with swinging music in Harlequin Productions’ “Operation Stardust” – the latest in the stream of “Stardust” fantasies Harlequin presents as holiday fare every year. They’re all set during the war, and they all involve radio broadcasts with fabulous singers performing great old songs of the swing era.

The plots are rather thin and often absurd, but they’re loaded with romance and humor and are really little more than settings for all the music.

In this latest incarnation, Pvts. Joe Divitz (Nat Rayman) and Billy Monroe (Jason Thayer) are a couple of hapless supply clerks who think they are ordering starburst flares but actually put in an order for the Stardust Players, a USO troupe. And in what has to be one of the most improbable plot devices ever, the traveling troupe of entertainers is flown into the desert outpost where, since they’re there anyway, they join Pvts. Divitz and Monroe and Sgt. James Avery (Russ Holm) in an Armed Forces Radio broadcast.

The troupe consists of Cleopatra Jackson (Antonia Darlene), Loretta Mae (LaVon Hardison), Jeanette Dale (Deanna Marie Molenda), heartthrob starlet Nora Lynn (Emilie Rommel) and matinee idol Marty Ross (Matt Shimkus).

In the broadcast, soldiers and entertainers join together to act out a silly tale that is loosely reminiscent of “Casablanca,” with harem girls, spies and ludicrous sound effects provided by Sgt. Joe. Being a radio skit, I guess it’s appropriate that the comic bits rely heavily on sound. Holm shows off his comedic talent using a variety of voices.

The radio skit goes on far too long, but ends with quite a bang as Act 1 draws to a close.

In Act 2, the story line is almost abandoned, and the entertainment dissolves into a musical revue. Thankfully. It is in the musical numbers that this troupe really shines, starting with Shimkus singing the great Kurt Weill classic “Mack the Knife” and later knocking the audience dead with the best bar song of all time, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

Shimkus is a real pro whom I recently had the privilege of seeing in “Twelfth Night” at Seattle Repertory Theatre. His hyper-cool facial expressions epitomize 1940s swingers. He truly inhabits the role of the self-possessed matinee idol.

The four women are all outstanding. Molenda doesn’t do much singing but has a strong voice. The other three are all of star quality, especially Darlene, whose beauty and grace simply command attention. She has proved herself as a soul diva in such musicals as “Dream Girls” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” but in this show she displays a melodious songbird quality I’ve not seen in her other performances – she is absolutely stunning on the classic love songs “I Remember You” and “P.S. I Love You.”

Hardison, known locally as Ruby of the duo Red and Ruby, was born for this role. On the great Johnny Mercer tune “Come Rain or Come Shine,” she is as sultry as Lena Horne or Billie Holiday, and she’s downright nasty on “You Got to See Your Mama Every Night.”

Rommel belts out blues and ballads with equal style and control. I especially loved her rendition of the Cole Porter classic “It’s All Right with Me.”

The three soldiers are on stage mostly for comedic and dramatic purposes and do not sing much. But they hold their own on their songs, and Holm really swings on his duet with Darlene on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

All that swinging singing is kicked along by a band led by musical director Debbie Evans on piano. The band members, who are on stage throughout, are all well-known local jazz musicians. They are: Keith Anderson, drums; Dan Blunck, saxophone; Rick Jarvela, bass; and Syd Potter, trumpet.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, and 2 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $34-$38; rush tickets $12-$20 half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.harlequin

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Vamps and villains

Film strips are transfigured in Rebecca Raven’s paintings

published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec 06, 2007
pictured: “Transfiguration #34,” oil on copper by Rebecca Raven

My initial reaction to Rebecca Raven’s paintings at Childhood’s End Gallery was that they are a little too precious and way too gimmicky. Ten of her 11 gemlike paintings employ variations of a single gimmick.

Raven’s pictures are painted in oil on small copper plates that are framed by exquisitely crafted wooden frames — almost as if placed inside of jewelry boxes. On the bottom of each frame box are small metal knobs that viewers can turn to rotate parts of the copper plates upon which the pictures are painted. Each turn of a knob reveals a little surprise. Perhaps part of a face changes to give a figure a slightly different appearance, or maybe a figure goes away, or colors change, or a man becomes a woman. It’s like in the movies when a false wall or bookcase turns to reveal a hidden room. Only in this case, the wall that turns is a part of a painting.

If this trick was all there was to Raven’s paintings, looking at them would quickly become boring — turn the knob to see what’s on the other side, and once you’ve seen it you’re in on the joke, and there’s nothing left to entertain you. That would be the case except for one thing: these paintings are beautifully done with precise brushwork and lovely colors. And the imagery excites the imagination.

The images in her “Transfiguration” series come from film stills from the silent film era. Since I am not a connoisseur of silent films and there are no titles or labels to identify the individual images, I can’t identify the particular films or actors, but I’m pretty sure I recognized Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and perhaps Clara Bow and Theda Bara.

On her Web site, Raven states: “I am interested, above all, in people and in the manners in which we communicate, express, and develop meaning. As an artist I find inspiration in gesture and in the subtle variations of facial expressions. … (My works) explore how these subtle changes of gesture, expression, and context serve to develop mood and narrative.”
What could be more perfect for conveying such subtle and expressive gestures than images from films in which actors had no words at their disposal but had to rely on expression and gesture to convey stories?

The reason my assessment of Raven’s paintings changed so quickly from dismissing them as gimmicky to admiration of her art is that her paintings beautifully meld content and form. Her painting style, her velvety monotone colors, and even the jewel box frames are all perfectly matched to the nostalgic subject matter. And with or without the surprises in store when you turn the knobs to see what changes, the intrigue of implied narrative is implicit in the actors’ gestures.

So, am I going to keep all of the surprise imagery a great mystery? No, I don’t think anything momentous will be given away by describing some of them. Some of the surprises are nothing more than slight color changes — so slight, in fact, that you have to keep turning the knobs to see what has actually changed. In “Transfiguration #27,” for instance, a standing woman is wearing a blue dress. Turn the knob and the entire painting is in a monotone blue. And then you can’t remember: Was her face blue on the other side? So you have to turn back to find out.

One of the most drastic comes from a Harold Lloyd film. Lloyd and an actress whom I can’t identify are pushing against a partially open door. On the other side, a large villain tries to hold them out. Turn the handle and suddenly Lloyd is pushing against himself.

Also showing are Linda Frizzell, Bill McEnroe, Robert Ellert, and Dave Schweitzer.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Dec. 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]